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January 22, 2016 (3:50 PM ET)

There are two NBA picks tonight.

1) Take Boston Celtics at -4 spread against Chicago Bulls for 3% of the bankroll.

Isn't it interesting that the 8th placed Celtics, off 2 straight defeats, are favored by 4 points over the 4th placed Chicago Bulls? It certainly is. But don't make the mistake of believing this is a Vegas error because it's not. The Celtics have been installed as favorites for good reasons.

Both of these Eastern conference playoff hopefuls are coming into this game off losses but one is primed to bounce back while the other may still be hung-over. That's because while the Celtics dropped a close game to the red hot Raptors in Toronto, the Bulls were outclassed from start to finish (4 full quarters) on their home floor against the Warriors! Blowouts do happen especially to quality teams but what was a sore spot for Chicago fans on that night was the lack of fight and communication between the players when the going got tough. Golden State got an easy layup out of each and every in-bound pass at the Bulls' end and scored 38 points in the 4th quarter, in a game that was already all over after 3 quarters! The fact that Fred Hoiberg stood there without saying much despite his team's complete lack of effort and defensive intensity at United Center opened some eyes about what Jimmy Butler had alluded to earlier this season when stating: "We need to be coached harder and to be held more accountable!" It was supposed to be the team cruising to a blowout that calls off the dogs in the final quarter and takes its foot off the gas pedal while the home side perhaps makes it more respectable but instead the Warriors outscored the Bulls in the 4th quarter againwhich said a lot about the diminishing confidence and cohesion of this squad!

Last night we backed the Cavaliers against the Clippers expecting a double-digit victory as they bounce back from a similarly ugly loss against Golden State but the same should not expected from the Bulls in this spot. That's because while Cleveland was also embarrassed by the Warriors, LeBron and company still have the utmost confidence in themselves and lead the Eastern conference! The blowout loss to Warriors was a setback therefore but not an identity-shakeup. Hoiberg's squad is more unsure about itself. They have a few hardworking players with winning attitudes, such as Butler and Gasol but that isn't enough as too many others are 'okay' with simply making the playoffs. One of the few guys with the right tenacity to spark a bounce-back performance, Joakim Noah, is out for the forseeable future and will not be on the court. The real problem for Chicago in this contest however is what looms ahead. Unlike the Cavs, who could solely focus on a big bounce back effort at home against the Clippers, the Bulls are on the road. Not only that, they are going up against a talented and hungry squad that has its own losses to 'bounce back' from. To make matters even more difficult, the Bulls travel to Cleveland tomorrow to take on their nemesis in a prime-time nationally televised game on ABC! Whether they want to or not, they will have one eye on tomorrow's matchup in what is a tough scheduling spot and may rest or limit their stars' minutes to keep them fresh.

Brad Stevens' Celtics, on the other hand, will be simply focused on the task at hand and that is getting a W tonight. Failure to do so would not only make it 3 defeats in a row but has other negative implications. It would drop them to a .500 record with just 22 wins and 22 losses and given how competitive the Eastern conference is this season, with as many as 5 teams breathing down their necks, the 8th placed team doesn't have much margin for error! There's a greater urgency for Boston to play well and secure a win here tonight then than their dejected opponents, Bulls, who can't fall below 4th in the East even if they lose tonight. As if retaining their playoff position in the standings was not enough incentive, the C's remember their most recent matchup against the Bulls on January 7th. They went just 5 of 25 (20%) from beyond the arc in that game to lose by 9 points! They were also out-rebounded by 10 and while they may again give up the edge to Chicago on the glass tonight, we do expect them to be more efficient from 3-point range. Let's not forget that the Celtics have a history of raising their performance in games against teams they seek revenge against. Isaiah Thomas and company were originally scheduled to play in Philadelphia tomorrow but the NBA has postponed that game due to weather concerns, meaning this is no longer a back-to-back situation for them as it is for Chicago. Look for them to take advantage of the reeling and half-focused Bulls as they cover this short spread in the process of getting the win.

Other notable facts to consider:

  • Celtics are 5-2 ATS on Friday nights this season.
  • Celtics are 11-2 ATS after playing 3 consecutive road games over the last two seasons!
  • The Bulls have been money-burners going just 16-25 against the spread this season.

2) Take Miami Heat at +11.5 spread against Toronto Raptors for 3% of the bankroll.

No team is currently dealing with more injuries than Erik Spoelstra's but that doesn't mean the former champs will simply roll over. The Heat are missing 4 of their usual starters in this contest but are still made up of a combination of proud veterans and ambitious youngsters! Tyler Johnson and Justice Winslow will likely get good minutes alongside veterans Chris Bosh, Gerald Green, Udonis Haslem and Amar'e Stoudamire tonight. Johnson and Winslow are hungry to prove themselves in the NBA and are good two-way players. As for the aging and experienced Haslem and Stoudamire, they're not the players they used to be but they are highly competitive individuals and ones that don't want to be on the receiving end of another blowout loss.

The Raptors come into this game flying high in 2nd place in the East thanks to 6 straight wins. Their ascent is well-publicized and has resulted in inflated spreads and being slightly overvalued. They are laying more points in a contest like this than they should be. We handicapped this game at Raptors -10 and solely because of how injury-depleted Miami's roster is right now and yet they are spotting 11.5 points to the visitors on this ESPN matchup. Toronto is a solid team but they aren't a squad that handles pressure well. When the spotlight is on them, they often cave. This is a matchup where because there's no Dwyane Wade, Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic or Luol Deng, all the pressure is on the home side. The Raptors suddenly have a lot of 'hype' surrounding them and have often disappointed in such situations. And while we believe they will win this game, we don't think it'll come as easily as the betting public anticipates.

The Heat have dropped 3 games in a row and will be the more desperate team in this contest. This isn't a squad that is used to losing 4 consecutive games. And although that is likely tonight given their injury woes, it doesn't mean they'll go down without a fight. This is a resillient team that does not like being counted out or disrespected. After not only losing their last 3 games but doing so by double-digits in each, look for an inspired performance from them tonight. We believe they can stay fairly competitive (within single-digits) in this contest and surprise a few people. Even if we're wrong however and this game is not close at half-time or after 3 quarters, there's always a chance for a backdoor cover when a team is receiving this many (11.5) points! If Coach Casey's team has a comfortable leading heading into the 4th quarter, he may elect to keep them fresh for Sunday's game at Air Canada Center when they host Chris Paul and the Clippers. Meanwhile, the Heat don't play again until Monday after this contest, which gives Miami players plenty of time to rest afterwards.

Chris Bosh was a Toronto Raptor for years and will not want to get embarrassed on this floor. He and his teammates have already had some lackluster performances in recent games and will be motivated to get back on track. As for the Raptors, the fact that they've been winning games has masked their recent defensive slide. Toronto allowed Brooklyn and Boston to shoot over 50% from the field and do a lot of damage from beyond the arc! They were poor defensively and yet nobody is talking about that because they shot the ball very well themselves. Nonetheless, that type of defensive effort will haunt a team sooner or later and it often shows up in a game such as this when Toronto likely wins but does not cover this inflated spread. The Raptors shot over 50% themselves against the Nets and Celtics but against a solid defensive team like the Heat, it would surprise us to see them keep that percentage as high. The Heat lost to Raptors in the last meeting but are 4-1 ATS when seeking revenge this season! Take the generous points with the more desperate team as they keep this game closer than people anticipate.

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